Formation in 1968
The side - known as Dartington Morris Men - was formed in the autumn of 1968 at the instigation of Eric Langford, with the first practice conducted by Dick Witt of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and Exeter Morris Men. In the early days the side practised in the 13th Century "Pillar Studio" at Dartington Hall, having the benefit of help with tuition from Dick Witt and Ted Fay (Exeter Morris Men) with advice from regular observers and visitors to Dartington Hall, Douglas and Peter Kennedy and Imogen Holtz.
The team's first musician, who also helped with dance tuition, was Winsome Bartlett (pipe and tabor), a member of the 1920 and 1930 EFDSS dance team. Whilst practising and contemplating a name for the side, Leonard Elmhirst, a founder of the Dartington Hall Trust, informed the men that he had once danced the Morris. He agreed that the side call themselves "The Dartington Morris Men" and suggested at the same time that the team use the Dartington crest of the white hart on the red rose; the crest of Richard II and John Holland.
The first performance of the side was at Cornworthy on the 4th December 1968, when, as was repeated on numerous occasions during the first 12 months, Muriel Langford made up the sides performance numbers. This was the only period when the current Dartington Morris allowed a woman to dance as a team member. The original advert posted by Eric Langford, a founder member, encouraging other staff at Dartington Hall to get involved in Autumn 1968 is in the Dartington Morris Men’s scrapbook. Further information about the history of Dartington Hall tells more about the background of this beautiful setting, and the origin of the name of the Dartington Morris Horse, "Champernowne".
Two previous sides
Research revealed that there had been two previous Dartington Morris sides dancing in the Totnes area; one side at about the turn of the century, apparently a ‘vagabond’ side dancing in bare feet, and, banned from Totnes, and other large towns; the other in the 1930s, with strong links with Dartington Hall and the Trust, under whose wing they, at times, participated in competitions held in Torquay Town Hall (and elsewhere?). The 1930s side being a mixed team, strongly associated with the Music and Dance Department and artistically and ballet orientated, split with a Dartington Village based team orientated towards standard Cotswold morris formed. Survivors of this Cotswold team, being very elderly, when contacted in the early 1970s by Terry Underhill and Alan Perryman, could only give minimal details of the team’s activities and kit. In 1973 the current side was admitted to membership of the Morris Ring, collecting their staff at the Ludlow Morris Ring Meeting in September 1978.
Performances in many locations
The side has performed in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Czech Republic, Canada and America. According to the History of Morris in the USA, the Dartington Morris Men, when they visited the USA and Canada in the Summer of 1977, were the first English side to perform in North America. The side’s kit has been worn under the ice cap of the South Pole by officers on watch on the nuclear submarine HMS Intrepid (?), and by a member of the side dancing jigs at 17,000 ft in the Himalayas, and the side has performed at over 30,000 ft for Laker Airline and on board Holland American Liners. The team has also been official guests of NATO staying at NATO Headquarters, Mons, Belgium.
Change to membership
In 2021 the side voted to change the dancing membership to be open to women as well as men. In 2022 the side voted to formally change the name to Dartington Morris.